FORT MYERS, Fla. — Driving with his wife on the way to camp, Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester stopped to think of how many spring trainings this for him. He thought it might be as many as 14, but the 2014 season makes 12. They're piling up.
"It is strange," said Lester, who also turned 30 in January — not to rub it in.
Younger guys, like right-hander Brandon Workman, have said they've watched Lester so they know what to do and how to act in the major leagues. Not just for pitching in games, or even how to prepare between starts, but little things that long ago became routine for guys like Lester, who is entering their ninth season in the majors. Clubhouse dues. Times to show up. What to wear.
"The clubhouse is intimidating when you’re young," said Lester, who broke in during the 2006 season. Then, he could turn to players such as Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield or Mike Timlin for advice — like how much to tip the clubhouse attendants at the Metrodome.
"To be able to go up to a guy and say, ‘Schil, what do I pay this guy?' We’re going to be in Minnesota for three days.' What do I pay this guy?' It made my life a lot easier when I had those guys," Lester said.
Lester seemed taken aback to hear that the younger players were following his lead.
"I didn’t know that ’til now and it’s nice to know," Lester said. "It kind of makes you feel bad, too, because now you’re getting old. But I remember being in their position following the other older guys around."
And if he gets his way, Lester will be mentoring young Sox pitchers for years to come. Lester's contract is up at the end of the season and free agency beckons. Lester has said he would take a so-called "hometown discount" to stay with the Red Sox, and repeated that he's still willing to take less money — hypothetically — than he might get on the free-agent market. Not that the Red Sox, appraised at $1.3 billion by Forbes, need to be subsidized in order to pay for a guy who has allowed one earned run in three career World Series starts. But Lester can't help himself. He likes being in Boston and doesn't much want to change his address. And, for better or worse, he says so.
"I usually don’t say things I don’t mean," Lester said. "I mean it. I want to stay here. This is all I’ve known. I don’t like change. I don’t like going into new places. If I had to go to Arizona right now and find my way around and meet new people have new teammates … I can deal with three or four new teammates but not a whole squad of them.
"I meant what I said and there’s no getting around it: I want to stay here until the end and see this thing out."
That could be — what — 20 spring trainings total?
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